Thursday, July 08, 2010

Behind the Scene

My customer Angie above in her sun room with her family.
Not shown: another son and grandbaby.

This room was completely transformed but Angie wanted us to do it. Originally she had things lined up all along the top shelf, pictures hung, plants everywhere, metal bakers rack in the corner stacked with pots, etc. The rug was mailed in from New York for the shoot and returned; the olive pot in back with flowers was rented and coffee table purchased by Angie after the shoot from Curious Sofa. Except for the rug, she has kept it this way since.

A few months ago I wrote about assisting Country Living magazine as they shot the home of my customer, Angie. The issue arrived 10 days ago and I promised to reveal some behind the scenes info for you.

The cover: Not Angie's bedroom.

Picture a crew of 5-9 people shooting in a 11' x 14' bedroom for 2 1/2 days. The sun goes up and comes down, the rain stops and starts, the room, its furnishings and the camera are lifted, moved, shoved, dismantled and rearranged about two dozen times. Curtains are taken off; pillows, cushions and all layers of bedding are thrown about and changed over and over. At night errands are run before stores close at 9 p.m to buy other colors and patterns of sheets; new lamps, a new something over the headboard, different vases, different props. Pictures are taken over and over- and not for the actual magazine, not yet! These are just test shots for final approval from the editorial staff in New York. We waited and waited as email images were discussed and fine tuned from Manhattan to Prairie Village. We were told all of this fussing was because this was the cover shot and it had to be perfect. It had to appeal to a checklist of two dozen categories a front cover must have. I am assuming the list goes something like this: Does it have great color, is it right for the season, for reader demographics, is it universal, is there a product from an advertiser, is there room for copy???- you get the idea. Hmmm... How about just one category? "Do you want to buy this magazine?" Or my other favorite, "Would you want this cover on the top of the stack?"

A cupboard in Angie's kitchen which we did not change much.

Originally an iron desk with glass top was here but they wanted something more solid so this desk was borrowed from the store. They asked for more watering cans on top of the cabinet and I rearranged some of the items on this desk Angie already had.

Top photo: A large sisal rug was purchased and returned to Pottery Barn and in the opposite direction the sofa faces a mantle which we completely tore apart hanging a new print and candlesticks, etc. but it was never shown.

Bottom photo: Angie's dining room above usually has a large lace tablecloth with a silver tea set in the middle. The stylist replaced it with a linen tablecloth from the shop and then added a small green gingham tablecloth over that. She also wanted a melange of mis-matched vases, plates and flower arrangements on the buffet. Sconces by the mirror in back were replaced with pictures and these chairs were changed a few times too.

The kitchen is pretty much as-is although we did remove the wooden blinds from the windows. I also sewed a new curtain under the sink at the last minute, Angie's original was made of floral barkcloth.

While I was observing all this new communication on the Country Living shoot my head kept thinking of one person. A person that has always been close to my heart because of my background: the photographer. To say photography is a lost art is putting it mildly as anyone today can point and shoot with a digital camera and manipulate the image to perfection in Photoshop. I am old school. I took photo classes 30 years ago and wound 35mm film on a metal spool in the dark. I rocked trays of stinky chemicals while developing pictures and watching magic happen on paper- and I never became a professional. Many photographers have studied and studied while spending thousands of dollars on equipment, assistants, studios, portfolios, reps and promotions. They work and develop their eye, their style and fine tune their craft while dealing with all the competition in their business because nowadays there is not enough work to go around. They, like all artists, should be hired because of how they do something, not just because of what they do. That is why specific talent is chosen for specific jobs. When a final product is manipulated so much that anyone could have taken that shot or done that job, when is someone going to say enough already? When is someone going to see the emotion was just taken out of it because, too many hands got ahold of it with too many opinions?

The fun laundry room with wooden soap dispensers, untouched.

Angie's home is lovely. It is filled with so many wonderful collections and memories. She has an eye for junking for a little something and adding it here and there. It's a big girl house but with many layers that have turned it into a cozy cottage. There are miscellaneous chairs everywhere that you can curl up in with an equally fabulous pillow or throw. Footstools, pictures, books, art- you name it, she has it. Like anyone with a vision, her stuff was chosen carefully and not a random collage of madness. Her items also have a history because of her family background and numerous travels. I wish you could have seen more of that.

The bottom shot is a perfect example of all the lovelies in Angie's house.

Now I made my living for 20 years as a photo stylist so I am all about making a room photo-worthy. I am not talking about adding flowers or moving a table to be just right. I am talking about setting a table that is not what the homeowner would do or even wish they could do or hanging pictures she would never buy, or using bedding that doesn't go with her carefully chosen palette. As I watched the home owner shake her head a dozen times, I also watched the photographer and his assistant wonder, "What am I doing here?!" I have been on hundreds of sets from stills to movies to TV and when you do not let the magic of the moment happen, you get a cold, controlled story that is easily forgotten because you have taken the human touch out of it. You have not let spontaneity happen and I think the viewer knows this and can feel (and see) when something is not authentic. Ask any artist who has been given a laundry list of instructions before a project. Rarely are we ever proud of the outcome. It is when we are left alone, with a few guidelines, do we shine. This is when personality comes through.

Pretty, but is it soulful?
Not the cover: The infamous bedroom: What is original to the room is only the rug, wallpaper and headboard! We purchased and hung a white oval mirror over the headboard (retouched out), purchased and repainted the new end table, purchased and returned the lamp base to Pottery Barn; the blue bench was an eleventh hour idea that came from Curious Sofa, the pillows and bedding were changed every hour. Angie always has all white sheets and duvet with a colorful vintage quilt folded at the bottom. The yellow and green pillowcases were hunted down from Macy's the night before the shoot. The props on the nightstand also from Curious Sofa.

My first reaction to seeing this issue was, "No surprise. After all that time in her bedroom, it did not make the cover" and I also knew Angie would be disappointed. The disruption this shoot created to her daily life was crazy and I am sure in the back of her mind she was thinking a cover shot would warrant all the invasion- but now for not. My second reaction as I flipped through her story was that the photos seemed over-exposed. Her house is not this bright. It is cozier and warm and when I flipped back to the cover I understood. Notice the heading of this issue: Sunny Style! I can't help but believe they brightened everything up to fit the theme. Something I am sure sent the photographer into a spin. All in all, I think they took Angie out of Angie's house and gave you what they think you wanted. This is happening in more places than on a magazine shelf.

Although the spread of Angie's house is really nice- and I even received a call from a friend raving about it- I was there and I know what it could have been. What you do not see is the country style living- the ease and comfort of her home. You missed the piles of colorful textiles she has, hooked rugs throughout the house, a hallway full of tole trays, a guest bedroom with a fabulous doll bed and layers of pillows, the other painted furniture pieces throughout the home and a dozen tables neatly displaying collections and tidbits of fun. She also has a wonderful garden and outdoor seating area along with her amazing red print slipcovered sofa and chairs from the store! After all it is called Country Living! The stylist herself said she never picks up this magazine as it is just not her style! WTH?

I know many problems arise when a photo shoot goes from concept to print but I cannot help believe the cart came before the horse in this case. I miss the day when a creative team (be it magazines, books, TV or movies) can be driven by the emotion of a visual and what is the best image they can use and design the project from there. It is not about where the copy goes or what a focus group says, it is about the person behind the image. Photographer and homeowner combined.
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